ACCORDING to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children and adolescents with obesity has more than tripled since 1970. Today, approximately one in five children between the ages of six and 19 is obese, and that figure doesn't include children who are considered merely overweight and not obese.
According to Dr Alka Sood, a family medicine physician with Penn State Health Medical Group Park Avenue in State College, children with obesity can face many social and health problems while growing up.
“Children with obesity are more likely than their classmates to be teased or bullied and to suffer from low self-esteem, social isolation and depression,” Sood said. “They are at higher risk for other chronic health problems — including asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes — and are more likely to be obese as adults, resulting in increased risk of heart disease and other serious medical conditions.”
Therefore, reducing the risk of childhood obesity is an important issue for improving a child's health and happiness. Here Dr Sood along with Kara Shifler Bowers, a registered dietitian and a project manager for the Penn State PRO Wellness Center, offer expert tips on how parents can support their children to set healthy habits early on.
Try to avoid discussing weight with children
Bowers advises parents to go ahead and make small changes around the house instead of discussing weight and health with the child directly.
“Talking to children about weight has lasting consequences,” Bowers said. “Instead, implement an easy change like keeping a bowl of fruit available. One change at a time is more sustainable than a complete lifestyle overhaul.”
Help children make healthy food choices
Food shoppers control 72 per cent of what families eat, so parents can use their supermarket trips to set good habits for children. Avoid buying unhealthy snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages, and if you do, keep them out of sight of children. Try to save these foods for holidays and celebrations.
Make healthy food available
If kids have easy access to healthy food then they will be more likely to eat it. Keep healthy snacks in the kitchen such as low-sugar Greek yogurt, nut butters, whole grains such as plain popcorn, and dips such as hummus. Keep a large attractive bowl of fruit available for easy access and try chopping up veggies and leaving them in the fridge so they are ready to eat.
Get kids involved
Allow children to be involved in meal planning. Teach them about the food they are eating, let them choose the fruit and vegetables for side dishes, and let them get involved in cooking and baking food so they can enjoy the preparation stage and help them develop a healthy attitude to eating.
Enjoy a family dinner
Recent studies have shown that sitting down together for as many meals as possible, away from the television, can help reduce childhood obesity. Not only does it provide time together as a family, but parents can use it as an opportunity to make healthy nutritious food choices, making it more likely that kids will make similar choices.
Bowers also advises to be patient as everyone in the family gradually learns to make better food choices.
“Don't underestimate the power of small changes that progress over time. All it takes is one step to start the process.”